Exploring Our Triggers to Discover Our Needs

poster-triggersMy family has come up on our first significant conflict since reuniting in Portland this year. It’s a conflict that can easily be traced to triggered reactions – fear buttons going off in individuals because of proposed changes to our collective relating. It’s an opportunity for me to live into my values and my most recent self work around triggers.

I’ve come to believe triggers are really important to address in family and community because they are the source of most conflict and avoidance. We lash out at each other when we’re triggered. And it’s the triggers we know people have that keep us from speaking the truth of what we feel – we consciously or unconsciously know it will “set them off.” If we learn how to sit with our triggers in curiosity, figure out what our needs are and how to get them met, rather than withdraw or act out from them in fear, we wouldn’t take each other to these hurtful places. If we could learn to hold each other in our triggered spaces and help each other get our needs met, our joy and connection will grow individually and collectively.

Triggers are buttons of fear built up over time from past experiences. They are not rational, which is why it’s so easy to go to the ugly, irrational places when they go off. We act out or withdraw because we are trying to run from the triggered feeling – fight or flight. What we need to do with triggers is sit with them in curiosity so that we can understand them and give ourselves what we need to heal them. We need to figure out what we’re really afraid of (some kind of pain), re-frame the past stories that feed that fear (how we were hurt like that before), and recognize our need can be met in the present – which all aids in disarming the trigger. It’s hard work and it hurts, but not as much as projecting our pain onto each other and having these harmful breakdowns again and again if we never address the triggers. Or the hurt of losing the relationship because we can no longer bear the pain caused by trigger reactions.

As passionate as I am about community building, I’m simultaneously struggling with huge fears because I have triggers around tribe rejecting me, publicly humiliating me, turning on me and/or letting me down. While our Imps tribe was wonderful in the ways that it was, it was also full of people hurting each other because not everyone was willing to be conscious of how their behavior impacted others or vulnerable with their difficult thoughts and feelings. We either set off each other’s triggers in terrible ways, or we became afraid of setting off each other’s triggers and avoided vulnerability. Our relationships mostly broke down because of it.

I don’t want to repeat those patterns, which is why I want to go deeper in community building this time, and I want to build from the deep trust that already exists in our circle. I desire to take the conscious, abiding, mostly healthy love that my partners and I have nurtured into the larger community relationship. I want everyone who comes to the circle to feel true belonging, to know that they will be seen, heard, held and loved *no matter what.* But I need to grow into it more slowly and carefully this time. I need to take care with whom I make myself vulnerable, because not everyone is careful and conscious with vulnerability. I also need to continue building thick skin – an ability to not take things personally so that other people’s behavior doesn’t trigger me.

Everyone has needs that are seeking to be met. Triggers go off because we’re afraid that’s not going to happen. I believe if we could come together in our families/communities and articulate our needs to each other with the intention of making it work, we could figure out how we can meet them all, at least most of them most of the time. I believe if we become conscious of our own triggers and can catch ourselves in the moment that the button goes off, we can prevent worlds of pain in our relationships and actually heal these places in ourselves.

What we’re attempting to create in my family and community is very special…and precarious because it’s taking every one of us some place we’ve never been before. As much as it can be joyful and fun, it can be awkward and uncomfortable. We’re committing to huge vulnerability. Resistance is inevitable. Growing pains are inevitable. However, I believe our love and commitment to the relationship is bigger than any obstacle we will face individually and collectively. I hope the others believe this, too.


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